I believe that most of us have had the experience before of sensing a severe spiritual attack. Perhaps it was through personal adversity, marital or family difficulties, or even through challenges faced by a church, but it was clear that demonic forces were at work to create discord and bring destruction. Despite what many might think, spiritual warfare is a biblical reality.
The Apostle Peter warns us, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.” (1 Pet 5:8-9, NAS) Satan is the ruler of this world (John 12:31), and the demonic forces under his charge seek to oppose the work of God in every way (Eph 6:12).
Though demonic forces are active in this world of sin, we must be careful to understand spiritual warfare from a biblical perspective. Many churches and groups that have popularized the subject of spiritual warfare have taught some very unbiblical ideas. They have taught the reality of territorial spirits or demonic strongholds over particular cities or geographical locations. They believe a person can demand information from demons regarding the local demonic hierarchy. They say we can learn about the spiritual realm from demons. Many of them even teach specific strategies for how believers are to engage and obtain victory over demonic forces. Such ideas and teachings are wholly unbiblical.
Satan is a real being, who tempted Eve in the garden in the form of a serpent. He is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44), and was both a murderer and sinner from the beginning (1 John 3:8). He, and those demons who were cast from heaven with him, use every kind of destructive activity to attempt to turn people away from God and destroy themselves (John 10:10). They seek to blind people to the gospel (2 Cor 4:4) and keep people in bondage to sin (Gal 4:3,8). Not all evil is from Satan and his minions (much of the evil in the world is due to human sinfulness), but some of it definitely is.
However, we assured by God Himself that in Christ, we have overcome these forces of evil and that “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4, NAS) As we walk by faith and look to Christ, we can resist demonic assaults and influences and force evil ones to flee. We must recognize, however, that there is no strategy or inherent ability on our part that can affect spiritual forces in such a way. We are powerless; it is Christ alone who is powerful. We resist by the strength of His grace which is at work in us, and Satan flees because he cannot even begin to withstand the sovereign power and authority of our Lord Jesus.
Our only strategies are to be firm in our faith (as it says in 1 Pet 5:9 above) and to preach the true gospel according to the authority of Christ granted to us as His ambassadors (both of which are fruits of His grace). We don’t have to seek out and wage war with demonic forces, and we don’t have to break down spiritual strongholds before the gospel can be proclaimed with effectiveness. As we look to our Lord and proclaim His good news, Christ Himself will change lives and destroy demonic influences. This reality brings us back to the most central truth: Satan and demons have limited power, and their activities are likewise limited by God’s sovereign control over all of creation.
We see in the first two chapters of the book of Job that Satan can do nothing without God’s permission (Job 1:12, 2:6). Though they possess angelic powers, demons cannot know the future or read people’s minds. In many respects, they are already being judged by God (Jude 6), and they will all ultimately be cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:10). To put it simply, Satan is nothing more than a mean dog, and his power and influence extends only to the end of his leash.
This fact begs more questions: If God is sovereign over Satan, why does He not simply get rid of him? If Satan can do nothing apart from God’s permission, why does God permit him to go forth to bring harm and destruction? Scripture does not give us answers to these questions. In fact, we do not see the writers of Scripture asking such questions; they only recognize the reality of spiritual warfare and trust God’s sovereign purpose in it.
That is a good model for us. Though we are surrounded by much evil, and though Satan is fighting against God and striving to diminish His glory, we know that our God is working all things according to the counsel of His will. Though preachers of the gospel may be imprisoned (Acts 4:3), many will come to believe through their witness (Acts 4:4). Though godly men are murdered, it may be the cause of the gospel going forth to new regions (Acts 8:1). Every occurrence of spiritual warfare is thus a God-given opportunity to draw near to Christ, depend upon Him more fully, and exalt His name and proclaim His grace out of the midst of our adversities.